Roadmap: Make Your Corporate Websites Relevant by Integrating Facebook, Google, MySpace, LinkedIn, or Twitter

Finally, your corporate website can be relevant again
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting research to measure how different social networks allow for integration with corporate websites and their assets. Over 3 years ago, I wrote a piece on how corporate websites are becoming irrelevant, due to trusted decisions between prospects and customers taking place off the corporate site. This piece, which still gets traffic has been translated into over a dozen languages –the market recognizes that corporate sites can no longer operate as silos when customers have left.

[Companies must integrate customers behavior on social networks to their corporate website to increase relevancy, word of mouth, and trust]

A plethora of options creates confusion in the market
Fast forward to 2010, and there too many options for brands to integrate these social features.  While many have used community platforms to allow customers to connect to each other on branded domains, this strategy works for loyal customers and often may not reach prospects.  Social networks, which have your customers and prospects, have taken note, and have launched a variety of products that allows their thriving communities of buyers and prospects to connect with static corporate sites.  The challenge?  There are so many features available, it’s confusing to figure out what to do.

Use this data as a roadmap and guide
Companies and organizations are confused by the wide variety of choices that social networks offer to help them connect to their customers, so I’ve created this menu to help them in understanding.

Matrix: Feature Attribute Benefits of Social Integration

Feature What it does Benefits Downsides What no one tells you
Sharing Features Allows users to share content from corporate websites to social networks Free to deploy, as social newtorks offer features or Sharethis or Addthis Beyond sharing and simple analytics, there’s limited functionality It’s scary to send traffic away –but it cause viral effects you didn’t expect
Embeds and Widgets Embed features on social networks (like Facebook Fan Reactions) on your corporate website Breathes real social interaction to static corporate sites, showing real world customer interaction Control over what’s being said is limited. If you don’t integrate this with your look and feel and use default features your site will look amateur
Authentication Login to a website using a social networking login, often through two clicks like Twitter connect. Increase chances of interaction. Users hate filling out registration pages, so this allows them to ‘login’ faster using their own login. You have less ability to glean their email address, as they’ve logged in another route. In the long run, you’ll have disparate data. Social networks are really an identity play, by using this, they gain more control.
Cross Publishing from my site to social networks “Pollination” Users can share information to specific friends in their social networks Rapid sharing of content, and sometimes the ability for users to specifically select who they’ll share to –this is beyond simple sharing features as activities and actions can quickly spread Spreading information means more disparate instances of data, making it hard for brands to maintain control. Careful.  Don’t allow for users to simply spam their friends with content, be selective.
Real time updates Update websites in real time with social content on corporate sites. Enable your corporate site to really be real time through updates in social networks in real time, and vice versa. Not all content will be relevant, and excessive updates will become white noise. Use this for key events, or important customer transactions, not the mundane activity.
Social Personalisation Serve up content based on users profile information and previous behavior, see VW’s early experiments Rather than subject customers to a generic user experience on your corporate website, customize the experience based on their social networking profile, increasing relevancy. Create a series of specific content types is costly, as well as the engine to develop this. Don’t assume what a customer does in Twitter is relevant to your own product, one size does not fit all.
Social Context Present real time information based on their friends behavior, see HuffPo. Allow your users friends to increase relevancy by suggesting content and products to each other –increasing rate of action. This is very complicated system to create, and requires a mindset to let go to gain more as users may say and recommend things you don’t like. Every company is a media company, and the smartest companies realize they are a marketplace.
Application Platform A platform that offers third parties to create web based applications using the social networks APIs, access to data Companies want to extend unique features onto social networks (like the most popular content on a corporate site) to increase interaction Costs to developing these applications are high, you need specific developers that understand the ever changing nuances of these platforms You’ll need long term resources or budget to do this and your existing team may not have the skill set.

Now that we’ve established a clear sense of the benefits and risks, let’s dive in and understand who offers what.  I’ve created the following matrix that I will keep up to date, that will fast forward research activities.

Who Offers What: Social Networking Integration Features

Facebook Google LinkedIn MySpace Twitter
Sharing Features Yes Yes Yes Yes, Share on MySpace Yes
Embeds and Widgets Yes, Fan Box Yes, third parties Yes, 3rd parties Yes, every page offers embed code Yes, see Twitter Widgets
Authentication
without password
Yes, FB
Connect
OAuth Yes, OAuth OpenID, OAuth, and MySpaceID Yes
OAuth
Cross Publishing
(Pollination)
Yes Yes (Buzz) Yes (via REST APIs) Yes, Share on MySpace Yes, + with 3rd party tools
Real time
updates
between sites
Yes (PubSubHubbub) Yes (via REST APIs) Yes, Real Time Stream Yes
Social Personalization Yes Yes Yes (via REST APIs) Yes, this can be done through MySpace’s REST APIs. Yes. Access all twitter profile info and some behavioral data.
Social Context Yes. see
Examples
Yes, with Google Friend Connect Yes (Most content on the site) Yes. MySpace Real Time Stream to get songs from friends, could also use data to suggest artists to others. Yes. One could show articles from the people you follow have shared or tweeted about. Example: Feedera digest.
Application Platform Yes Yes Offers
an OpensSocial platform

to select partners
Yes, OpenSocial. Yes. See wiki and getting started guide.

Update:  Duzins, from Yahoo has left a comment below showing all of the capabilities that Yahoo has to offer, go into the comments to learn more.

Recommendations: Develop a Pragmatic Strategy

  • First, understand your customers. It’s unrealistic for you to deploy all of the features above, in fact that would only confuse your customers. Instead do research and find out where your customers are.  Then, you’ll know which social network to focus on, and data showing their existing behaviors will tell you which features to focus on.
  • Integrate this with your website roadmap. Start simple then evolve. Don’t try to boil the ocean, start small with simple sharing features, then follow the stack as I laid out in the second matrix.  This is a roadmap that you should use to across the next few years as your corporate website evolves, fusing in social features.
  • Find partners and agencies that will guide you. Don’t go this alone, find agency partners, or technology providers that know this space and have experiences to reduce your risk.  For example, managing all the social connections is more than a brand can take on, for example Gigya, (an Altimeter client) manages all those connections for brands.  Forward this post to agency partners and ask them where they are on this roadmap and who they’ve partnered with to do this.

Other Resources

Research Sources
I did my own research to fill in the matrix as much as possible, then went directly to folks that work at those social networks to verify. Thanks to the helpful and knowledgeable Josh ElmanChris MessinaAdam Nash, (LinkedIn), Amy Walgenbach (MySpace).

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